Insects - essential for our wildlife and food supply

Why focus on insects?

So why focus on insects?  In a nutshell, because they are very important and are in serious trouble.  Healthy insect populations are essential to our ecology - skylarks, cuckoos, swallows, bats, frogs, hedgehogs and many other birds, mammals and amphibians depend on them for food.  They are also vital for our food supply, as orchards and many crops depend on them for pollination. A review of 73 studies (1) found that insects are in dramatic decline globally and that 40% of the world's insect species could become extinct over the next few decades.   The study’s authors conclude that “a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide. “

The 2019 State of Nature Report (2) found that insects in England are declining rapidly, both in abundance and distribution. Numbers of butterflies and moths, for instance, have dropped by 16% and 25% since the 1970s, with habitat-specialist butterflies declining by two-thirds over that period. The report lists the causes of the decline as linked to climate change, loss of habitat and intensification of farming, with the latter “having the biggest single impact upon nature in the UK over recent decades, with the great majority of that impact being to drive species’ populations downwards”.

The proliferation of pesticides in the UK, with over 400 varieties now permitted, was highlighted in recent report by the Soil Association (3).  Farmers are often advised to use combinations of these and multiple applications.  Consumers and wildlife are increasingly exposed to the “pesticide cocktails”, whose toxicity to humans has not been assessed. The herbicide glyphosate for example, a known carcinogen to mammals (4), is used on a huge scale and routinely found in food samples. Two thirds of our rivers contain over 10 pesticides, and 67% of soil samples contain multiple pesticides.  About half of all bumblebees have two or more pesticides on their surface. 

  1. Sánchez-Bayo, F. & Wyckhuys, K., (April, 2019) Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation, Volume 232, 8-2.
  2. State of Nature 2019.
  3. The Pesticide Cocktail Effect.
  4. Some Organophosphate Insecticides and Herbicides. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 112. 2017; 452 pages. https://publications.iarc.fr/549